A mysterious blend of jazz and chamber music brings together the visceral power of Charles Mingus and the sparse textures of Steve Reich through original compositions and improvised pieces - producing sounds that are intriguing, energetic, and positive.
2004 Fantastic Merlins begins as the trio of Nathan Hanson saxophone, Jacqueline Ultan cello, and Brian Roessler bass at the Clown Lounge, St. Paul, MN
2005 The band becomes a quartet with the addition of Federico Ughi drums. Look Around is recorded.
2007 Look Around released by Innova Records
2008 Peter Hennig joins the group on drums, replacing Federico Ughi. A Handful of Earth is recorded.
2009 A Handful of Earth is released. How the light gets in, a collection of songs by Leonard Cohen arranged by Fantastic Merlins, is recorded with Matt Turner replacing Jacqueline Ultan on cello, and Darren Jackson aka Kid Dakota on vocals.
2010 How the light gets in will be released in conjunction with a special performance by Fantastic Merlins and Kid Dakota at the Sons d’Hiver Festival in Paris.
Listening to Fantastic Merlins is like walking down an alley in a film noir: shadowy characters, ambiguous motives, and cliffhanger moments abound. Both dissonant and resonant, Fantastic Merlins effortlessly weave together the dark and the light, the dangerous and innocent. Their cinematic sound coalesces organically in an exquisite tension between jazz and chamber music, surprising listeners as often as it soothes.
Fantastic Merlins’ balance between highly orchestrated passages and improvisational flights of fancy creates a constant process of discovery. It keeps the Fantastic Merlins’ sound fresh — delighting both listeners and band members themselves. This process produces momentary mysteries, too: discerning the difference between dramatically different instruments can be nearly impossible.
Fantastic Merlins’ previous album, Look Around, creates a swirling tension just underneath the surface, which keeps listeners under its spell from beginning to end. Moody and gorgeous, it is an album-length siren song and was chosen as a semi-finalist for the 2007 Grammys in the Best Jazz Instrumental category.
Fantastic Merlins’ newest release, A Handful of Earth, has been gestating for a couple of years; instead of a mere follow-up to their acclaimed debut, they’ve delivered a decisive artistic leap forward. Without sacrificing their adventurous spirit, the Merlins have tactically embraced simplicity and outright lyricism. They’ve opened their blend of jazz, classical, and improv to more possibilities in order to deliver memorable surprises. Discovery is key to the Merlins’ music. A Handful of Earth features a procession of fantastical alleys, fields, and groves awaiting your exploration.
Saxophonist Nathan Hanson has performed with legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Cecil Taylor, Mark Dresser, and Douglas Ewart, as well as rising stars including Chris Potter, Tony Malaby and Liberty Ellman. He has been called “probing” (Jazziz), “an extraordinary performer, with a beautiful tone and concept” (Cadence), and “unexpectedly tasteful and dignified” (ImproJazz-France).
Bassist Brian Roessler expresses his musical versatility on electric and double bass. He has studied with French double-bass virtuoso Francois Rabbath and James Clute of the Minnesota Orchestra. One of Roessler’s compositions, Returning to Silence, was chosen as the subject of a master class with Henry Threadgill at MacPhail Center for Music. Roessler has also recorded with artists ranging from jazz visionary Carei Thomas to indie rocker Kid Dakota to Spymob, who signed to Epic in 1998.
Drummer Peter Hennig is a graduate of McNally Smith College of Music who has studied under Dave King (The Bad Plus). He has performed alongside vocalists Renee Austin, Debbie Duncan, and Sophia Shorai, as well as with the Atlantis Quartet, Greybox, and Charlie Devanna.
Matt Turner is regarded as one of the world’s leading improvising cellists. Also a highly accomplished pianist, Turner performs everything from jazz standards and twentieth century new music to alternative rock and improvised avant-garde. Turner completed his undergraduate studies at Lawrence University and his Master of Music degree in Third Stream Studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. There he studied with Dave Holland, Geri Allen and Joe Maneri and was the recipient of a Distinction in Performance award. Turner has performed at several music festivals including the JVC Jazz Festival, Nancy Jazz Pulsations, Avignon Jazz Festival, Festival en Haute-Garonne, and with CUBE, Present Music, and Dadadah.